On days Sporting Khalsa FC play at their home ground, the Aspray Arena, they usually have a man and dog for company. But this Saturday, it’s all going to change.
This non-league club, it plays in the ninth tier of English football, from the West Midlands is on the brink of scripting history. The FA Cup story is peppered with giant-killing acts and Sporting Khalsa FC can add their own chapter to it if they manage to defeat United FC of Manchester — a club which plays three tier above them — in the last qualifying match on Saturday.
Their prize, a place in the main round of the FA Cup, and for this lowest-ranked surviving team in the tournament, it would be nothing short of miracle.
United FC of Manchester have a history of their own. The club was formed by disgruntled supporters of Manchester United after the takeover of US businessman Malcom Glazer in 2005.
Sporting Khalsa have played six matches so far in this qualifying campaign, more than what Arsenal did on way to last year’s title. But it is the 7th game that has grabbed all the attention and a crowd which could be well over 2000, something that the club has never ever witnessed in its history. And a chunk of those in the stands could be travelling fans.
“I think our lowest gate this season so far is 25 and we’re expecting 2,000 people at the game as FC United have told us they’re expecting to bring a four-figure support down,” Khalsa coach Ian Rowe was quoted as saying in the FA Cup website.
“Some players might freeze, some people might thrive. I just hope that if we go out that we do it in the right manner and compete, and I’ve got no doubt in my mind we can do that.”
But more than football, Rowe and the club management had a major headache in the lead-up to the biggest game. Clearing space for fans to catch the match. “There was a load of old metal and chairs that needed shifting. Grass verges had to be dug and stone had to be put down to level it off. At our level we can’t afford to pay people to clear the site. We rely on volunteers. We sent one email out and had around 20 people turn up, including the manager and some of the players,” Inder Grewa, one of Khalsa’s 12 owners told the BBC.
Rowe turned up along with striker Craig Bannister, who has scored nine goals in this qualifying campaign, to lend a hand in clearing the debris.
Established in 1991 by a group of 12 Sikh boys, the team prepped for Saturday’s game with a training session at the nearby Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Under Rowe, Khalsa have won the West Midlands Regional League, but it is a place in the FA Cup that will be their crowing glory.